'Mad Men' Star Brian Batt Stands Up for Gay Actors

Newsweek story about Sean Hayes, 'Glee's' Jonathan Groff, raises hackles.

May 13, 2010 — -- On "How I Met Your Mother," Neil Patrick Harris loves 'em and leaves 'em as serial womanizer Barney Stinson. On "The New Adventures of Old Christine," Wanda Sykes spits one liners as divorcee/token black friend Barb. On "24," Cherry Jones commands the country as President Allison Taylor.

In real life, they're gay. On TV, they play a variety of characters. They're actors. It's their job.

Ramin Setoodeh: take note.

With more than half a dozen openly homosexual actors cast in heterosexual roles on mainstream TV shows, questioning an entire community's ability to do a job effectively -- as Setoodeh did with his recent Newsweek article, "Straight Jacket" -- comes off as callous and crude, according to gay actors and activists.

"While it's OK for straight actors to play gay (as Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger did in "Brokeback Mountain"), it's rare for someone to pull off the trick in reverse," Setoodeh wrote in his piece for the May 10, 2010 issue of Newsweek, calling gay actor Sean Hayes' portrayal of a straight ad man in Broadway's "Promises, Promises" "wooden and insincere," and gay Broadway star Jonathan Groff's turn as a straight glee club leader on Fox's "Glee" "so distracting."

Last week, Kristin Chenoweth, Hayes' "Promises" co-star, shot back at Setoodeth in a letter to Newsweek, calling his article "horrendously homophobic." On Monday, "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy published an open letter calling for fans to boycott Newsweek until the magazine issues an apology.

Now, "Mad Men" actor Bryan Batt is jumping on their bandwagon.

"Gay actors have been playing straight since Euripides," Batt told ABCNews.com Wednesday. "It really saddens me that someone actually thinks this way and that Newsweek would actually print it."

"I could care less who these actors do, it's what they do," Batt said. "When are we going to stop labeling everyone? How many times have I been referred to as 'out gay actor?' Do we say, 'out heterosexual actor' when we refer to Tom Hanks?"

Beyond that, the notion that gay actors can't play straight seems as ludicrous to Batt as the idea that people who play raging psychopaths/drug addicts/murderers must be worthy of institutionalization themselves.

"Did Anthony Hopkins really have to be a serial killer to be in 'Silence of the Lambs?,'" Batt asked. "I don't think so, no. It's called acting, people."

Batt, who plays in-the-closet ad man Salvatore Romano on "Mad Men" and just released a memoir, "She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother," said Setoodeh's piece "speaks of such self-loathing." (In a follow up to "Straight Jacket," Setoodeh acknowledged he's gay.)

GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios agreed.

"It's a little bit like having to sit down and listen to him on the therapist's couch, like he's working through his issues on this," Barrios said. "What's most disappointing and hurtful about Setoodeh's article is that he is willing to peddle stereotypes used against gay people to make his argument. By referring to Sean Hayes as 'queeny' and then saying that his queeniness disqualifies him from playing a straight man ... it's a shame. He played a gay man on a show ["Will & Grace"] 10 years ago."

In a statement to media outlets, Barrios joined "Glee's" Murphy in asking Newsweek to apologize. But in an e-mail to ABCNews.com Wednesday, the magazine seemed to shrug off the controversy altogether.

"Ramin Setoodeh wrote a thoughtful, honest essay on a controversial topic," a representative for the magazine wrote. "It's unfortunate that his argument has been misunderstood and he has been unfairly accused of bigotry ... We also hope we still get our advance copies of "Glee" because here at Newsweek we're among the show's biggest fans (even the straight folks)."